Monthly Archives: November 2014

Book Review: The Cat at the Wall by Deborah Ellis

A fellow English student once told me that YA fiction is didactic by both nature and design. Other literature may or may not hide its ideological underpinnings under a veneer of “art for art’s sake,” but literature for adolescents, she said, is much more overt in its efforts to interpellate its readers into particular systems of thought. Since she certainly knew much more about the genre than I do, I’m not particularly inclined to argue with her; on the contrary, I found myself repeatedly returning to the idea of didacticism while reading Deborah Ellis’ latest novel, The Cat at the Wall. It’s an unabashedly moralizing book—narratively, it hinges on the main character’s journey from self-absorption to (relative) altruism as it plays out against the backdrop of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It’s also a novel that truly believes in the transcendent power of the individual. But while it seems almost mean-spirited to quibble with such unrepentant optimism, I can’t help but wonder whether Ellis has gone too far in her explicit efforts to “figure out a place for individual choice in the face of big events”—whether her efforts have slid into a kind of naiveté that smooths over the rough edges of the conflict and, perhaps, offers the reader a lopsided understanding of what is needed to resolve it. Continue reading

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Quick Thoughts on Mockingjay – Part 1: Rebellion, Propaganda, and Metafiction

Please Note: The following post contains some spoilers for both Mockingjay – Part 1 and the Hunger Games series as a whole, so read at your own discretion.

Right up until last week’s premiere, I was concerned that Mockingjay would be the stumbling block when it came to adapting the Hunger Games trilogy. No, I do not count myself amongst the readers who grew exasperated with the final installment’s unrelenting grimness; if anything, Suzanne Collins earned my undying respect by painting such a plausibly—if dishearteningly—bleak portrait of a revolution (let’s not forget how frequently real revolutions die out, are hijacked, or result in a regime even worse than the one that preceded it). My concern therefore had less to do with Mockingjay’s tone or subject matter than it did with its structure. In both The Hunger Games and Catching Fire, the Games themselves function as a kind of narrative scaffolding; they carry with them their own climaxes and conclusions and, at least in Catching Fire, are the linchpin in the plans of both the Capitol and the insurgency. Mockingjay lacks this obvious structuring device, and in the added absence of the coherence provided by Katniss’s first-person narration, the movie seemed likely to falter. Continue reading

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Fingersmith, or: The Most Victorian Novel Ever Was Written in 2002

Regrettably, this will be a fairly short (and very informal) post; I have to return my copy of Fingersmith to the library, so I don’t have time to mine it for the quotes that would allow me to talk about it in more detail. I also haven’t quite decided whether the title of this post is misleading—whether Fingersmith really is a true-blue Victorian novel (just with a queer twist), or whether its use of so many quintessentially Victorian tropes and plot devices somehow makes it even more postmodern than, say, The French Lieutenant’s Woman or Possession (two other wonderful 20th/21st-century spins on 19th-century literature). Either way, though, it’s a fascinating book. Continue reading

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Book Review: Hold the Dark by William Giraldi

If Hold the Dark is ever made into a movie, expect it be a darling of the Academy; it’s exactly the sort of tough, feral story that voters have favored for Best Picture in recent years. I can easily imagine it becoming another No Country for Old Men—but more on that later, because there is at least one thing that separates Hold the Dark from many of Hollywood’s recent ventures in grit and grime: scope. Though William Giraldi’s second novel is a slim read at just over 200 pages, it would take a director of David Lean’s caliber to fully capture its weird, looming majesty; only the man who gave us Lawrence of Arabia could do justice to the vast, primordial blankness of the Alaskan wilderness. As it stands, my choice for director would be Clint Eastwood; Mystic River may have a more claustrophobic feel to it, but not for nothing does Hold the Dark’s dust jacket bear Dennis Lehane’s endorsement. Continue reading

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Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Characters You Wish Would Get Their Own Book

I don’t tend to participate in a lot of literary memes, but as a reader who’s constantly longing for more insight into her favorite characters, I just couldn’t resist this one, brought to you by The Broke and the Bookish. It will probably surprise no one that there’s a feminist slant to many of these (“imagine x novel, but from the woman’s perspective!”), but I have tried to think outside my most familiar box, with the following results (in no particular order): Continue reading

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Twists and Turns

It’s strange which moments stick with you. I don’t typically remember my first viewing of a movie unless it becomes an instant favorite, but I do remember, quite distinctly, the first time I saw Jane Eyre. It was the 1943 version with Orson Welles and Joan Fontaine, I was probably seven or eight years old, and I was watching it with my mom. Or rather, my mom was watching it while I was in the room; I don’t recall being particularly interested in it myself, since I had no taste as a child. Maybe I was paying more attention than I remember, though, or maybe the foreshadowing is simply too obvious to miss (admittedly, it’s been several years since I saw that version). It’s even possible that at some prior point in my life, I had heard something somewhere about Jane Eyre that had, for whatever obscure reason, lodged itself in my unconscious. Whatever the reason, at one point fairly early in the movie, I turned to my mom and asked—much to her surprise—whether Mr. Rochester’s secret had anything to do with a hidden first wife. Continue reading

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